Eating healthy and getting in shape with "Coach Wood"
Haywood Simmons, a former Wisconsin Badger and NFL football player, has turned his passion for sports, nutrition, fitness, and personal improvement into a lifetime calling.
Three years ago, he created Phitness Plus with the mission of helping to build healthy and happy lifestyles through proper exercise and informed nutritional counseling, one person at a time.
“Getting in shape is such a positive thing for your psyche and for your overall well-being. It’s amazing for your confidence,” Simmons tells The Madison Times from the Phitness Plus location on Perry Street on Madison’s south side. “We want people to experience that.”
“It’s a family environment here. You come and network on a personal level and a business level. We have a lot of small business owners that come here and network,” he adds. “People chat and talk about fundraisers and community events. There are new friends here that are now running partners and buddies. We’ve created an environment and an atmosphere of family to help keep people motivated.”
Phitness Plus will host the grand opening of its new spot at The Resilience Neighborhood Center as part of a Fun and Wellness Fair on March 2. The Resilience Center, located off Rimrock Road near Badger Bowl, is a hub of events, classes, and groups led by Cora White, a longtime neighborhood resident and her daughter Martha White who manages the commercial grade kitchen.
“That building has solar powered lights. It’s a great building. Eighty percent of the water in that place comes from rainwater,” Simmons says. “People in the community were not aware of that building and it’s a great building so it seemed like a great partnership and an upgrade of our facility. We’re very excited about that.”
The Fun and Wellness Fair will showcase Zumba, C.H.A.M.P. Camp, F.I.T.T. Camp, and P.R.E.P. Camp and there will be games, prizes, balloon artists, health screenings, and food. Community leaders will speak including the keynote speaker, Kaleem Caire of the Urban League of Greater Madison.
The Resilience Center move is another step in the progression of Phitness Plus which, Simmons says, will culminate with the grand opening of a new place on the west side in a location around Hawk’s Landing or Mid-Town Road by late summer. He’s working out the details right now.
Simmons is well aware of the health and fitness disparities that African Americans face. Much of it is the result of long-time habits. “Re-educating yourself is the key. We try to look at the reasons why we eat and we eat to become one with our food. We need to rethink why we eat: Do we eat for fun or do we eat for health? We would like it to be both.
“Food is a big part of what we talk about and what we believe here in keeping a less-toxic body,” he continues. “That’s a key part of the equation. You can cheat, but you really need to be careful about the food you eat. We attempt to educate clients about the choices that they make on the food and how they help your body. What you eat is what you really are.”
Facebook and other social media have changed the way people interact. It also changes the way that a trainer can keep an eye on his trainees. When “Coach Wood” sees one of the people he’s training post the double bratwurst sandwich or pizza they are eating, he comments on it. “I’ll sometimes just post a question mark or just say, ‘really?’” Simmons smiles. “You really going to have that cheeseburger with a coke and pizza and ice cream with chocolate? Coach Wood is always watching and I like to have fun with the people I’m training.”
Simmons used to love the junk food himself growing up in Macon, Ga. “As a youth I was always overweight. I didn’t know that then. Coming from an African American family in Georgia, I was just ‘a big boy,’” he remembers. “But that developed into high blood pressure and hypertension at age 15. As a teenager, I was taking two different medicines to try and work with the high blood pressure.”
Simmons continued to play football and would go on to star for the Wisconsin Badgers. After graduating from UW-Madison, Simmons signed as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys. Following his NFL experience, Simmons also spent three years with two semi-professional football teams.
“By all scales and standardizations, I would have been considered obese,” Simmons says of his football days where he was playing defensive line. “And after football, life continued to happen. I because a father and began to eat more ... and the next thing you know, I was 350 pounds!
“For a long time, I didn’t even know how out of shape I was,” he continues. “We look at it from a traditional standpoint with my father, mother — love ‘em to death — but healthy food was not necessarily one of their strong suits. I saw my dad at 40 and he was a bit overweight, his energy was less, and he was taking a few pills for this or that. It seemed like that was the way life was supposed to be until one day I started reading and studying about what was possible in my life and how I could and should be living as I get older.”
Now Simmons weighs in at a trim 212 pounds on his 6’2”¾ frame and is considering going lower. He wants people to know that he wasn’t always in great shape and that if he can do it; so can they. All too often, people are afraid to go to public gyms because they are embarrassed by their weight or body. Not the case at Phitness Plus.
“Ninety-eight percent of our clients were overweight or morbidly obese when they walked in the door. Everyone understands what its like beginning with the head trainer, who was at one time 350 pounds and could only do a half of a pull-up,” Simmons says of himself. “Heart rate and food are very important. We’re here to guide your heart and to guide your mouth ... to guide what you eat and how you feel.”
Phitness Plus P.R.E.P. Camp is designed for people who may have been sedentary and dealing with some issues like back pain or shoulder pain and are looking to get back into it. “P.R.E.P. Camp will get your feet wet and your mind frame right. I will give you a basic understanding of healthy foods and training,” Simmons says.
F.I.T.T. (Functional Introductory Training Techniques) Camp is designed for the individual who is a step beyond P.R.E.P Camp. “It’s for that mom, dad, or even teen youth who is looking to get in shape and wants a good environment to be encouraged under,” Simmons says. “We really emphasize form here. If you ask any client — almost sometimes to a fault — we always work on the proper form.”
Simmons has built up an impressive clientele, which includes former UW and professional athletes, plus the Madison Blaze women’s football team, for which he serves as conditioning coach. If they don’t use proper form, you can be that “Coach Wood” will be on their case. Simmons is the head football coach of the Monona Warriors, a coach with the Madison Blaze women’s football team, and assistant conditioning coach at Madison West High. “Many people have met me in the community first as ‘Coach Wood,’” Simmons says. “As a trainer, I love being called ‘Coach Wood.’ It feels good and it’s a title of esteem and I hold it very near and dear to my heart that people give me that respect.”
Simmons says that that introspection and communication between trainer and trainee is what makes Phitness Plus a little more personal than other Madison-area health clubs. But while he has created a family atmosphere, Simmons knows that he still needs to be a taskmaster. “As we grow, I think segmentation helps — to put a different face on different portions of our business,” Simmons says. “We have contract trainers who train here, guest speakers who come in to speak, guest yoga instructors. We attempt to bring in third-party validation sometimes so they are not just hearing all of the instructions from their friends and coach.”
Simmons has big future plans for Phitness Plus.
“I want to see this turn into a worldwide phenomenon — where we franchise out our F.I.T.T. Camp and C.H.A.M.P. Camp and where we do it online as well as in the gym,” Simmons says. “I want to grow multiple facilities and franchises around the country. I’m looking forward to seeing this thing grow and expand in Madison …. and then nationwide.
“We want to make a difference in people’s all-around health. We want to eliminate those disparities in health that exist and we want to bring people together from all different backgrounds,” Simmons continues. “We’re going to start a Fittest City Challenge this spring and summer and we want Madison to be able to brag that we are America’s Fittest City by the time we are done with everything. There are a lot of people in Dane County and I don’t see ourselves as competitors [with other health clubs] as much as we are friends of fitness. Anybody who is doing the work of helping people become enlightened about what health and wellness are all about and getting people more active, we would love to have in this Fittest City Campaign with us.”
Simmons favorite part of what he does day-in and day-out is the positive responses he gets from his clients about how their lives have been completely changed.
“I have watched people improve immensely. I love watching people be able to do things that they never dreamed they could do before. I love watching people do the unexpected,” he says. “That’s my favorite part of this all. I love the pride and the self-confidence that they exude when they’ve decided to take control of their health and their lives.”
Phitness Plus will host a Fun and Wellness Fair on Saturday, March 2 at the Resilience Center, 501 East Badger Road. For more information about the event or about Phitness Plus, contact Haywood Simmons at (608) 957-4153 or email@example.com.